‘King of the Truck Series’ Hornaday holds record for career wins

Ron Hornaday Jr. will be the first of his kind to make it into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when the Class of 2018 is inducted Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The 59-year-old driver, who was called in from California to drive for Dale Earnhardt, will be the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver to achieve Hall status.

The Truck Series started in 1995 and Hornaday was one of its pioneer drivers. He started his Truck Series career driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

When it was all said and done, Hornaday earned four series championships and 51 wins.

Maybe even more importantly, he opened the California pipeline of racing talent to NASCAR; drivers such as Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson famously slept on the Hornaday couch when they first arrived with helmets in hand.

“When I met Jimmie at a Chevrolet function, he was coming from off-road, he told me was moving down, doing this and that,” Hornaday said last week.

“I told him, ‘Don’t go rent a place, that’s a waste of money. Save some money, buy your own house.’ He might have stayed three to six months, might have even stayed a year. It’s something where you have a big enough place; they’re hanging out on the couch.”

Hornaday said the couch converted into a bed and was part of his “man cave” at his old digs. When the Hornadays downsized to a smaller house there was no room for the couch.

“We still have part of that couch,” he said. “I got a small part of it still.”

Hornaday was integrated into the Truck Series from Day 1.

NASCAR ran a few exhibition races in 1994 to see if the concept of pickup trucks in racing mode would work. Hornaday competed in those events.

In 1995 NASCAR developed a 20-race schedule. As time went along, the Truck Series was added to big tracks. Trucks debuted on Daytona International Speedway’s 2000 Speedweeks program.

“They had a five-year plan,” Hornaday said. “I think the first year, we exceeded that five-year plan of what we thought it was going to do.

“The fan participation became involved from the Tucson (Raceway Park) days all the way up to the Daytona races. It’s been exciting, action-packed.”

Hornaday currently holds the record for career wins (51) in the series, but Kyle Busch is hot on his rear bumper in the record book.

Busch has 49 wins. His career-long victory percentage is 35 percent. In the last three seasons Busch has competed in 15 Truck Series races and won seven times.

No matter what Busch does, Hornaday will always be “King of the Truck Series.” His place in the Hall of Fame solidifies the label.

“I was pretty humbled,” Hornaday said. “I didn’t know how to take what the Hall of Fame is all about. I thought it’s pretty cool to be the first one in there.

“When my name was called, Mark Martin grabbed me aside said, ‘This don’t mean anything right now. Give it about six months, where the things you’ve done in racing, it will hit you of who you helped, how you handled yourself.’

“It’s not all about all the races you won and all that stuff, it’s about all the people’s hearts you touched and who worked on your race cars.”

The other members of the Class of 2018 include crew chief Ray Evernham; broadcaster Ken Squier; engine builder/car owner Robert Yates; and Red Byron, who won the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series championship, known in 1948 as Strictly Stock.